The pages of Jill Anne Kowalik's posthumous Theology and Dehumanization swim in grief. Afloat with the mourning rituals of seventeenth and eighteenth century Germany, the book sketches a rising tide of unresolved grief, its waters teeming with repressed affect, rage, and trauma. The editors’ preface—co-authored by Gail Hart, Ursula Mahlendorf, and Thomas P. Saine—remarks that Kowalik refused “to evade the personal issues her research raised and she used the intellectual task she set for herself to confront her own traumatic illness, the knowledge and fear of her own impending death, and her grief” (9). One senses that the editors too adroitly used this intellectual task to do their own mourning work. They have had to navigate treacherous waters, creating a scholarly monograph cum memorial.
In Theology and Dehumanization, lead editor Hart and her collaborators— Ursula Mahlendorf, Thomas P. Saine, and Hans Medick—have gathered nine essays authored by Kowalik over some fifteen years. Four have appeared previously as journal articles, two in these pages. The first introduces the book Kowalik had planned to write had she but world and time enough, a work which would have included a final chapter on “the meaning of dehumanization” intended to “clarify the impact of early modern forms of grief on the development of modern pathologies” (22). The editorial preface elucidates, “the finished work as she visualized it would have encompassed the loss and grieving of all the centuries from Homer to the Vietnam War” (11). While that goal ultimately eluded Kowalik, the eight subsequent chapters suggest the quality of what has been lost with her death.
Varied in length and polish, the essays range ambitiously: from Achilles's rage at Patroclus's death (in chapter two) to twentieth-century German scholars’ “profoundly judgmental approach to emotional experience” (117). Tracing a genealogy of grief beginning with Homer, Kowalik asks how Paul's frequently cited suggestion in I Thessalonians 4:13–14—grief may be remedied by the belief in resurrection— came to entail its proscription altogether. Grief, Kowalik argues, was not banned by Augustine, nor with Luther. Instead, it was outlawed in the seventeenth century, although not by Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy (52–54). Grief's “demonization,” Kowalik argues, was a particularly German phenomenon, one bound inextricably with the intense and prolonged reception of Johann Arndt's bestselling Vier Bücher vom wahren Christentum (1606–).